For the primary time, utterly driverless automobiles are being examined in China


SINGAPORE – Self-driving cars with no human drivers to replace them are currently being tested in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to AutoX, a Chinese autonomous car technology company.

The Alibaba-backed company announced Thursday that it will be the first time a "fully autonomous fleet" that does not accompany human drivers or remote operators has been operating in China.

Several so-called "Robotaxi" projects have been launched in Chinese cities, but these vehicles still have a driver to take over in emergencies or someone to remotely control the car.

AutoXs driverless vehicles

Courtesy AutoX

Driverless "stress tests" have been carried out over the past six months to determine how the vehicle will behave in various road situations, the company said in the press release.

Jewel Li, the company's chief operating officer, told CNBC that China's cities are testing more than 100 robot axes with 25 fully autonomous vehicles in Shenzhen.

AutoX's fully driverless robot axis is not yet available to the general public. According to CEO Jianxiong Xiao, they are only available to employees and private guests such as the media, business partners, investors and car manufacturers.

Plans to test outside of China

The next step would be to increase the number of cars, the size of the test area and conduct tests in more cities, she said on Squawk Box Asia on Thursday. "We plan to expand to 10 cities worldwide in the next six months."

Li said one of these cities is likely to be in Southeast Asia, but did not specify which ones.

"We are very excited about the Southeast Asian market. We believe this is the next emerging market," she said.

For most of our drivers, it's kind of a science fiction experience. When you really experience the vehicle driving on its own, the excitement is overwhelming.

Jewel li

AutoX Chief Operating Officer

She found that AutoX in Southeast Asia has an advantage over other autonomous driving systems developed and tested in the West because the roads in Asia are more similar to those in Chinese cities.

AutoX also has a self-driving pilot taxi service in Shanghai and a license to test driverless cars without safety drivers in parts of San Jose, California.

"Sci-Fi" experience

Li said passengers found the fully driverless tests exciting.

"It's kind of a science fiction experience for most of our drivers," she said. "When you really see the vehicle drive on its own, the excitement is overwhelming."

On top of the novelty, she said autonomous vehicles will help resolve privacy issues and security concerns in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

– CNBC's Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.


Katherine Clark